Columns

Shame on you for desecrating our flag!

CHRIS BURNS

Monday, April 16, 2012    

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THERE is hardly any fun in flogging a dead horse, but whipping a political donkey to change course may be worthwhile. There are certain political deeds that we must unceasingly condemn, and our condemnation of these vulturous and politically asinine actions must be resolutely apolitical, especially when they offend or disrespect our national symbols and institutions such as what took place recently at the swearing-in ceremony for Montego Bay's mayor, Councillor Glendon Harris.

The Jamaican flag was adopted on August 6, 1962 to coincide with our Independence. The flag consists of a gold saltire, which divides the flag into four sections: two of them green and two black. When I was in high school, we were told that the colours meant "hardships there are, but the land is green and the sun shineth". Back then, the gold signified the shining sun, black reflected hardships, and green represented the land. That interpretation was changed in 2003, based on the recommendations of the 1996 Rex Nettleford report.

Today, the colours of the flag mean “the sun shines, the land is green and the people are strong and creative”. Essentially, black depicts the strength and creativity of the people; gold, signifies the natural wealth and beauty of sunlight; and green represents hope and agricultural resources. There are standards with which to treat the flag. For instance, the flag must be regarded as a sacred emblem of the nation, to be paid due reverence and devotion by all its citizens. The flag should never be allowed to touch the ground or floor. It should never be flown or used for purely decorative purposes on anything that is for temporary use and likely to be discarded, except on state occasions.

So although People’s National Party (PNP) Chairman Robert Pickersgill apologised for the benighted buffoonery from some overzealous partisan in Montego Bay who omitted the green from the flag – perhaps to gin up the PNP's dominance in western Jamaica – the act must still be repudiated. Yes, there will be celebrations for the victors and teasing of the vanquished in the aftermath of any election, but it cannot be that we elevate this to overshadow everything else; and so the person who perpetrated the crime must be publicly embarrassed.

And without imputing motive, it is amazing that no one knew, or cared to know that the green was missing from the flag prior to its conspicuous placement on stage, but as a backdrop behind the mayor and his specially invited guests. But even if Mayor Harris did not know of any action to desecrate the flag, he is not blind and he could have, and should have ordered the immediate removal of the backdrop. He couldn't have been all that blind or deaf.

Furthermore, he should have had the swearing-in ceremony rescheduled in protest

against the churlishness and wanton abuse against one of our most important national symbols. Mayor Harris has a responsibility to the people of St James, and indeed to the wider Jamaican community, to promote national unity and to uphold the sacredness of our national symbols and institutions. He must tell the truth, tell it early, and tell it all about the specific instructions that were given to the supplier of the flag for this event.

We are now being told by Mayor Harris that the decorator will refund the $30,000 paid to him for the ceremony and that a shortage of “green cloth” is to be blamed for the “two-coloured” flag. That is funky hogwash, Mr Mayor, funky hogwash! We know the JLP did not buy all of the green fabric during the last election. And while I am no student of vexillology (the study of flags and standards), the green in the flag represents “hope and agricultural resources”. So, are we to assume that as mayor of Montego Bay your tenure will be devoid of hope? The supplier should be “blacklisted” with immediate effect, and if any officials of the St James Parish Council participated in the desecration of the flag they should resign forthwith.

If we are to move forward we have to clean up our politics, and it matters not that the PNP believes the incident “will not hurt the party”. Who cares if it hurts the PNP? The Jamaican people are justifiably indignant over the incident and that's what matters most. The PNP's position does not even run a distant sixth to the hurt and humiliation the people have suffered as a result. Therefore, the party’s position of political invincibility is absolutely irrelevant and equally insensitive, given the magnitude of the appalling behaviour in Montego Bay.

This is an opportune moment for the ministries of education and youth and culture to forge an alliance toward a comprehensive reorientation of the Jamaican people about the importance and significance of our national symbols, institutions, pledge, song and anthem. There could be no better time than now, as we march closer to celebrating our 50th year of political Independence, for central and local government to work in tandem to help younger Jamaicans become aware of what political Independence is, and what it means to have national symbols and institutions. It is also a great moment in time to recalibrate the significance and value of these national treasures in the minds of older Jamaicans, some of whom never fully accepted or embraced Independence.

The floppy flag fiasco that took place in Montego Bay and the embarrassment that emanated therefrom should impel every Jamaican to support the reintroduction of civics in the school curriculum, starting in September. Let there be no equivocation on the part of the present administration, that came to power on “people power”, in its obligation to securing a prosperous and harmonious relationship between the people. As it were during the elections, when party leader Portia Simpson Miller preached “national unity and solidarity”, so too must it be now that as custodians of political power her government becomes the drum major of national unity and solidarity and not the promoter of divisiveness and discord.

Burnscg@aol.com 

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